Masdar: The Carbon-free City

Abu Dhabi’s plan is to build the world’s largest and first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. The project symbolizes the capacity of this powerful United Arab Emirate to be a leader in renewable energy. It will also show the world that independence from fossil fuels is possible (once the project is complete). Building a carbon-free city hasn’t been without its trials.

masdar city glass

A rendering of Masdar City from The National.

Let’s talk about the motivation behind this enormous investment in green architecture and city-building. Why should anyone in a Gulf country give up on fossil fuels when they contribute immensely to national income?

Abu Dhabi seeks to be an innovator of green technologies and a global force in renewable energy. Reducing domestic use of fossil fuels will allow for more profits from exporting oil to other parts of the world. Capital can then be invested into renewable technologies to bring down startup costs. Setting goals to reduce carbon emissions by adopting renewable energy also shows détente. Countries can improve their global image by creating strict regulations to show that they care about the environment.

masdar city building

Image of Masdar City from Eniday.

“In sub-Saharan Africa the market for solar portable lights has grown by 90% annually for the last four years. In India, 3.2 million solar lanterns had been sold or distributed by the end of 2015. In Pakistan, women are putting solar lanterns to productive use to start new businesses and become entrepreneurs.” – Renewables 2016 Global Status Report

Implementing renewable energy offers benefits for people in equatorial regions as well. Solar panels come in a variety of sizes and can be transported more easily than larger products like wind turbines.

irena logo

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is a worldwide program that links countries to sustainable energy by providing information on policy, technology, financing, and implementation. It was originally supported by Germany, but is now hosted in Abu Dhabi. Seventy-five countries originally showed their support for IRENA back in 2009 during its founding. Now, all but 18 countries in the entire world are part of the agency.

Germany’s role as a catalyst of IRENA was to promote its feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariffs are contracts between the government and an industry/individual who feeds excess electricity from a renewable energy source back into the grid. The government pays a steady or decreasing rate to help the industry or individual offset initial costs of implementing renewable technology. Contracts can last up to 45 years. Feed-in tariffs are more common and have higher success than proposed carbon taxes because they reduce carbon emissions without forcing unwilling parties into the agreement. The contract only exists between the government and beneficiary!

Renewable Energy Targets and Policies

Countries with Renewable Energy Targets, Policies, or Both (2004) Countries with Renewable Energy Targets, Policies, or Both (2014) Increase
Global North 36, 75% 49, 100% 25%
Global South 18, 14% 129, 100% 86%

This table was made using data from REN21 assuming that there are 178 countries in the world; 49 Global North, the rest South. Global North and Global South were classified by myself using this list. Kosovo was not included in the list and was determined to be North.

Virtually all countries had renewable energy targets and policies 5 years after IRENA’s formation. Participation from countries in the Global South increased impressively from 2004 to 2014. Involvement by countries in the Global North increased as well, but many countries had previously existing renewable energy targets and policies before IRENA.

IRENA’s successes in promoting renewable energy worldwide are undeniable. However, Masdar City is a dream that has not yet come to fruition.

“The…completion date is now 2030…visitors who once were told of being chauffeured about the city by a driverless car now find themselves walking, as the coverage of Masdar City’s signature autonomous transport system has been reduced from citywide to two stops.” – South China Morning Post

Have you read about Masdar City? Are there other cities you know that aim to be carbon-neutral? Let me know! Sincerely, Jess 🙂

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